PLATTSBURGH — Trooper Matt Ross says he has the best job in the New York State Police.
Ross, who works out of the State Police barracks in Plattsburgh, is a certified canine handler and his dog rides along with him in his marked SUV for each 12-hour patrol.
Kelley recently worked her last day as a State Police canine.
Ross will keep her in his family for her whole life, as every State Police handler does.
“I’m excited to have a new dog ... but it’s kind of sad because I really trust Kelley.”
His new canine, Buck, a 14-month-old German shepherd, has been living with Ross for about three months.
“We don’t know each other as well.”
It takes awhile for a handler to build trust with a canine, Ross said.
And since he isn’t fully trained, he isn’t allowed into Ross’s home yet and spends much of his time when he isn’t out for walks in a large kennel Ross built for him in his garage.
Ross is an animal lover with two other dogs, a Weimaraner and a mixed breed.
MOSTLY TRAFFIC STOPS
Most of Ross’s shifts usually consist of routine traffic stops.
His canine sits in the back seat of the Chevy Tahoe in an area designed for it.
Anyone Ross arrests will sit next to his dog with a transparent, hard plastic wall separating them.
One day, on a recent week, he pulled over three cars for tinted windows and one for a loud exhaust.
He found two empty beer cans on the floor of a red truck with three underage locals inside. It wasn’t enough to write a ticket, though, he said.
And Ross often doesn’t ticket those he pulls over, he said.
He’s looking for something different than the average trooper who writes tickets for things like speeding, faulty headlights or illegal use of an electronic device.
His main target is drugs.
He sometimes works with the Adirondack Drug Task Force if they need help with something specific, but his mission is different, he said.
“They’re long-term investigations,” he said. “I’m more like stop the car and find it today.”
Among the hundreds of traffic stops Ross has conducted in his 12 years on the job, something inevitably turns up, Ross said.
“It’s like a numbers game,” he said.
Many times, the big busts come out of a stop Ross decided to make at the last minute, he said.
He even stops pedestrians.
One man was walking near the Butcher Block wearing shorts in the cold weather.
“He’s just doing something odd,” Ross said, as he got out of the car and spoke briefly with the man, who said he worked at the restaurant and was heading to Price Chopper.
However, he was walking the wrong way initially.
Stories that don’t add up can be a dead giveaway, Ross said.
Suspects sometimes flee and Ross may let the dog out of his vehicle to chase the person.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a “door popper” to open the canine’s door, so sometimes he has to choose between continuing a chase himself or backtracking to let his dog out for the pursuit.
In the seven years he’s been working with Kelley, even after a chase, she has never had to bite anyone, Ross said.
All the suspects in these situations were cooperative and didn’t require a violent response from his dog.
One such chase happened earlier this year in Plattsburgh. After Ross stopped a vehicle, one of its occupants immediately fled on foot.
“When you get out and run you say, ‘Hey, I’m a criminal,’” Ross said.
After Kelley sniffed the outside seam of the car door, 600 baggies of heroin were uncovered and the suspect was arrested on drug charges, Ross said.
While canines aren’t trained to detect prescription drugs, Ross’s intuition led him to find some pills on a man just outside the City of Plattsburgh.
A Honda Civic with three young men inside was parked in the lot where A&W is located, which is next to the bus stop.
As soon as Ross pulled in, the Civic left.
Ross ran the car’s plate and, while he found no outstanding warrants or license suspensions, he said he wanted to see what the kids were up to.
After circling the residential area just down the road from A&W, he found the car, parked outside a house.
After questioning the three young men, one handed over a couple of containers of prescription medication.
One was oxycodone, which the man said he had been prescribed for back pain.
Ross returned the medication with no further questions asked.
As he got back in the car he said, “Do I think he legitimately needed these pills? Absolutely not.”
‘SLOW AND METHODICAL’
After returning to the barracks, Ross hid “pseudo cocaine” in an office drawer before bringing Kelley in to find it.
After sniffing around for about a minute, she located it, scratching at the drawer.
“Kelley is so slow and methodical when she searches something,” Ross explained. “They know if they find a drug and scratch at it, they’ll get a toy.”
And, consistent with her training, Kelley did get to play with a rubber chew toy after she sniffed out the substance.
Buck has a different personality; he is a bit more aggressive, Ross said.
Kelley likely would have been able to find the synthetic drug more quickly, but it had only been in the drawer for about a minute and the scent hadn’t had a chance to permeate the way it would in real-life situations, he said.
“You can’t see what they’re smelling,” Ross said.
Most area schools request that Ross and other canine handlers visit the school from time to time for either demonstration purposes, classroom lessons or to actually sweep the school’s property for drugs.
The students engage in a “lockdown” drill while two, three or four handlers and their dogs search each locker in the school.
If a student age 16 or older is found with drugs, he or she will be arrested, Ross said.
Kelley performed her fair share of tracking in her career.
For a canine to track a missing person or suspect, the ideal situation is to have an article of clothing from the person that only he or she wears, and for the location the person was last seen to be untouched, so no others will have muddled the scent, Ross said.
She found the body of Dale S. Jarvis Sr. in July where his son, Dale S. Jarvis Jr., known as D.J., had buried him 5 feet under the ground in a makeshift casket after he struck and killed him with a sledgehammer in the Town of Chateaugay.
Jarvis Sr. was last seen in February 2013.
D.J. pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
NAMED FOR TROOPERS
Like all State Police canines, Kelley is named for a fallen State Police employee.
Her namesake comes from Trooper John Kelley, who worked out of the Malone barracks, Ross said.
Kelley died in 1960, not long after the vehicle he was operating was struck by a locomotive at an unguarded crossing, according to the State Police’s website.
He was 34 years old and had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II before joining the State Police. He was stationed in Malone.
Buck is named after Investigator Thomas Buck, whose son has also made a career with State Police, working in Ogdensburg, he said.
Trooper Buck punctured his finger on a hypodermic needle while making an arrest and was diagnosed in 1972 with infectious hepatitis that arose as a result of the accident, according to the website. He was 36 when he died after suffering liver dysfunction.
Ross will spend three months in Cooperstown training Buck at a facility.
Much of the cost associated with that is paid for by Jane Forbes Clark, a wealthy local philanthropist.
She purchases many of the State Police’s dogs.
Ross said what they look for in potential police dogs is a strong desire to play.
While there are stories of success and rehabilitation, Ross said he thinks the amount of addicts that fully recover and are able to remain sober is low.
He often deals with the same drug offenders over and over again.
“You see them next week, next month; they look sick.”
He often encourages them to seek treatment after they are released from jail or the hospital.
But addicts have to take the initiative to seek help themselves, he said.
Ross pointed to the Clinton County’s recent drug sweep — the largest in North Country history.
‘RIPS THROUGH FAMILIES’
“The drug round-ups show the face of this person, but it doesn’t show their house,” Ross said. “It’s amazing how people live at their low points.”
Since addicts put virtually all their money into support their drug habit, other necessities fall by the wayside, Ross said.
“(Addicts) don’t mind sleeping on a piece of plywood floor in a room with eight other people.”
Addiction knows no bounds — it permeates through the ties of family and friends, he said.
“You can see it rip through families.”
‘CAN’T GO BACK’
Ross said most people he arrested for drug possession or sale are good people. But many acknowledge something went terribly wrong in their pasts.
“Most of these people can pinpoint the day they got hooked.”
Many of them can remember the name of the person who gave them their first dose of the drug.
“It’s sad because you can’t go back.”
Email Felicia Krieg:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg